Round numbers and cycling 100 miles

Bicycle trailerRiding 100 miles is quite a feat. That’s why the metric century was invented for those of you who don’t really, really love cycling. You can’t fool us Brits with this made up kilometre of yours, even if you can add 100 of them together. We know that’s a mere 62.1371192 miles. Also known as a warm-up here in the UK. Aye, we’re tough.

You never quite forget your first 100 mile ride. It is a special moment. Mine was a bizarre impromptu ride to Southend-on-Sea. No training. A bottle of Lucozade for sustenance. In jeans. I know, what a hero. My distinct lack of preparation is probably the reason why I’ll never forget the ride.

It still amazes me when I travel great distances on the bike, distances normally associated with a car, or even an aeroplane when I think about some of my big multi-day cycling adventures. The human body is an amazing thing. More so when wheels are added. Wheels are our wings. Flightless, the bike gives us the ability to soar up mountains and glide to the furthest reaches of the Earth.

Squaring up to round numbers

Highway agencies begin recommending average cadences
Highway agencies begin recommending average cadences
Why is the 100 mile ride so significant? We humans are transfixed by round numbers. Mid-life crises kick-in at 30 and 40 never 43 or 34. The height of a mountain is 1,000 metres and not 1,254. Research shows that 56 percent of petrol station pump sales end in .00, with an additional 7 percent ending in .01. Unlucky. Round number bias also stalks us when it comes to restaurant tipping, the anniversaries we celebrate and the many milestones we deem worthy of acknowledging.

Round numbers motivate us despite there being little additional reward between cycling 99.9 miles and 100 miles. Why? Maybe it’s the fact we have ten digits on our hands? One theory suggests round numbers are easier to divide. Or remember. Or is it that they give us the appearance of order? I have to admit I’m still waiting for all of the months to contain 30 days so I can stop confusing myself with silly mnemonic rhymes. And why is there no mnemonic to help us remember how to spell mnemonic?

Anyhow, back to the bike talk. Maybe one day I will extend my 96 mile training loop so I can claim inner goodness. Maybe. In the meantime I’m happy to fall short. I see no attraction in sewing a patch to my jersey sleeves a la the Rapha festive 500 challenge.

That said, 100 miles should feel special and not just a part of your training. Here’s to your first 100 mile cycle ride. Or 101. I’m not advocating you get off and walk when you hit your round number.

How easy is it to cycle 100 miles in a day?

Cycling long distances is not for the time poor. Or those of weak minds. Or wearing jeans. It requires attention, patience, time, planning and your every ounce of energy. So say some.

I think anybody can cycle 100 miles for that is the beauty of riding a bike. It’s easy. Given enough daylight I reckon anybody could achieve a 100 mile ride simply by jumping on the bike. Give yourself ten hours plus an hour or two for some food and bingo, you’re done. All you need to do is ride at 10 miles per hour for the day. Riding slower than 10 miles per hour for 10 hours would be more of an achievement than riding 100 miles. It really is that easy.

That’s not to belittle the achievement of riding 100 miles. Of course, if you want to ride 100 miles within a certain amount of time or to actually enjoy it then you’ll need to put some effort in. No matter what your fitness levels, 100 miles demands respect. Here then are the five stages of your first and, in my experience, every 100 mile ride.

1) Planning

What? 100 miles is a long way fuelled on prunes
What? 100 miles is a long way fuelled on prunes
Yes, you could simply jump on your bike and set off into the nearest sunset a la Clint Eastwood on his trusty horse. You’ll get there, eventually. You’ll also enjoy it a lot more if you plan your big day out. I’m not talking a military operation here, it really is simple.

Check the weather. Aim for a tailwind wherever possible, especially on the return leg if you’re planning a loop. Trust me, you don’t want to do this in reverse, thinking you’re a Pro for the first 50 miles before a sloth-like crawl home. Oh no, that is not fun. If rain is forecast choose the correct clothing. Or better still, postpone (my choice every time).

Food. Eat a good meal the night before, chow down on a hearty breakfast and take some energy packed goodies with you. Forget about gels and all that crap. Real food gets you through any other day and so it will get you through this ride too. Add to this water and you’re done. Climb into your superhero Lycra if you wish and off you go. As I said, easy.

2) Clipping in, off we go
Abound with nervous and excited energy, you clip in and set off on your odyssey. Legs stiff, I find it takes a good hour for the legs to loosen up. Yes, I know, I’m old. Don’t be tempted to raise your heartbeat too high too early. Enjoy the scenes. I usually set off at sunrise because a) I’m mad b) I love sunrises c) the roads are relatively car free and d) I like to get home and spend time doing something that’s not cycling, you know, like cleaning, watching TV, making sweet love to my girlfriend. These options still exist just so you know, life is not all ‘training’. Anyway, that sunrise. Enjoy it.

3) Half way
Before you know it, 50 miles have been and gone in a blur. Easy, right? Especially if you ignored my advice and sailed out with a tailwind. Unless you’re touring, now’s the moment where you spin the bike around and point your wheels towards home. This is also the moment when on occasion the wind seems to change direction and hit you with yet another headwind. This not so rare meteorological phenomenon is known as A Cyclist’s Very Long and Slow and Painful Day Out. Or A Right B*stard for short.

The return leg is where you need mental strength. Glass half full and all that. Never think, ‘Oh my god, I’m 50 miles from home’. If this thought hits your head then it’s quite likely you’re already tired. Break down the remaining 50 miles into smaller chunks. Start with 25, then ten, and then well, it’s just another couple of fives and a few ones. Now more than ever it’s important to keep eating and drinking. Oh and pedalling, don’t forget that either.

4) The final countdown
You’ll know the countdown has begun when you begin looking at your speedometer or GPS every 0.01 miles. The battle has begun. Legs tired, you’re mashing away on the granny ring. The merest of inclines becomes an intense duel for survival. Traffic lights are your enemy, for if you lose momentum you fear you’ll never be able to get the bike rolling again.

Should you have forgotten to continue eating and drinking you’ll also have to contend with the dreaded cycling bonk, your own personal appointment with the man with the hammer. The road stretches out into infinity, there is no end. The fight is no longer turning the pedals but resisting the temptation to dismount and curl up into a ball beside the road.

5) The recovery

The one is the walking stick you'll need when you get home
The one is the walking stick you’ll need when you get home
The great satisfaction of watching the odometer finally turn from 99.99 miles to 100.00 is soon forgotten. This being your first 100 mile cycle ride, it’s unlikely you’ll get home and celebrate. It’s more likely you’ll throw your bike against the nearest wall and either cram your mouth with food or simply fall onto the nearest horizontal surface and make some zeds. Don’t worry it gets easier.

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky

The benefits of long distance cycling

  • Miles to the cyclists are like Viagra to the porn star. The more you do, the longer you go
  • You can refer to yourself as a Randonneur using a French accent if you wish (until someone informs you that a Randoneeur actually cycles at least 200km!)
  • Grow your slow twitch muscles. No, I’ve no idea what I’m talking about either
  • See the world. Literally, if you wish
  • Eat as much of what the hell you want upon your return
  • Bask in the glow of smug satisfaction
  • Find new routes
  • Escape the world, think on the bike, resolve your issues
  • Improve your health

The pains of long distance cycling

  • Chafing
  • Eating on the bike
  • Finding water in the middle of nowhere. Garages and garden taps are great. Or cemeteries if in France.
  • The bonk
  • Time lost and long days in the saddle
  • Saddle sores
  • Junk miles or over-stretching yourself
  • The inability to do anything but sleep or lie down when you return home
  • Distance is little indication of ability
  • The punctures that always seem to happen on mile 88 of 100 rather than on your 6 mile commute. Bah.
  • Preparing can be a bit of a faff

How to train for a 100 mile cycle ride

Nice of people to finally recognise my achievement
Nice of people to finally recognise my achievement
Tip number one: there is no magical formula. Increasing your stamina simply takes time. Build up slowly and add an extra 10 percent to your mileage each week. I usually ignore this basic training advice because I’m a hero stupid and I begin at 30 miles and add an extra 10 miles each week (there’s them damn round numbers again). It’s a bit of a stretch but means I can hit 100 miles within two months if so desired. I’d recommend taking it a little easier. Remember, rest is as important as the miles you put in.

Then what?

Cycled 100 miles and bored of it all? Beat your time. Establish an average. Change your cadence. Join a club. Hang up your cleats and go to the pub. Truth is there’s many a cycling goal for you to achieve in 2014. Yes, long distance cycling can be very dull if repeated week after week. Try some speed work. Or hill climbs. Find new routes. Better still, go on a cycle tour.

If you’re no longer enjoying the big rides, simply switch your attention to some shorter, faster loops. I find long distance cycling mentally unsustainable. After a few months I’m relieved to return to short, sharp 30-50 miles loops. Big respect to the audax riders who knock out a squillion miles on a regular basis. Or this chap who cycles 100 miles everyday. Ouch.

Your tips for cycling 100 miles?

Share your secrets to preparing and enduring or enjoying the big monster rides.


12 thoughts on “Round numbers and cycling 100 miles

  1. The most important thing is….just bike as often as you can. Whether it’s 100 km. or 100 miles. It’s not useful to badger other people (and other cyclists), that everyone must be cycling 100 miles per day several times per month, as a mark of supreme cycling achievement.

    Sure I used to track my mileage every year for first few years after I returned to cycling. Then , it was not useful: if I didn’t do the mileage I should have done, then I became demotivated. Not motivated.

    I’ve been cycling for past 23 yrs. and I’ve been car-free 30 years. So I’m alot less tougher than the hammerhead cyclists on the roads?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love a round number too and will sometimes cycle twice round the block just to round off a ride with a 5 or a 0 but my round numbers are quite a bit smaller than yours. One or two hundreds a year will do for me. I do agree on how easy it is to cycle relatively long distances once you have got over the mental block. My wife doesn’t cycle very much at all but was able to do the end-to-end at 50 miles a day for 19 days without blinking.


    1. Love the fact you put a few extra turns of the pedal in to get the round number! Looking back, I can see I’ve only managed four 100 mile rides in the last two years, so by no means am I a mile monster!

      The big rides are nice every now and again but I enjoy cycling too much to put myself through the mincer on a regular basis. I think I’m comfortable with about 80 miles depending on the terrain. Today was lovely, 60 miles in good old British Summer Time. Balmy!


  3. I’m currently i training for a) my first tour (420 miles over a week) and b) my first 100+ mile ride, so I really enjoyed this post! I surprised myself at the weekend by managing a 67 miler with relative ease – I guess after that it’s just a matter of eating, drinking and pedalling more!


    1. Sounds exciting, where you off to? Food is definitely the most important thing after pedaling. The beauty of a tour is that every scene is new to the senses which helps the miles pass by without you noticing too much.


  4. Re. Wind – YES! You can also plan to ride to your nearest 100-miles-away railway station and let the train tackle the headwind home. With planning an advance ticket cheapens this option… It means not worrying about retracing the road home and your ride looks extra-heroic because you’ve ridden 100-miles away instead of 50…

    Liked by 1 person

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